Skip to main content

California wildfires

Battling a million-acre blaze

Californian firefighters battling the Dixie blaze in August. Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Last week firefighters in California finally contained “Dixie”, the second largest “megafire” in the state’s history. It burnt for three months and consumed almost a million acres – two and a half times the area of Greater London. And the fight to keep it under control was unlike anything ever seen, says The New York Times.

At its peak Dixie was being tackled by more than 5,000 firefighters, using 569 fire engines and 194 water trucks. About 200 bulldozers cleared almost 1,800 miles of “fire breaks”: gaps in the trees and undergrowth that stop the flames spreading further. Planes and helicopters – some costing $1m a day to operate – dropped almost $100m worth of flame retardant. The combined cost of the operation? North of $600m.

The temporary command centre was “like a small town”: catering stations, fuelling areas, laundry services, sleeping tents. Each morning there was a daily briefing with hundreds of tired firefighters. “Some crew members wore sweatshirts bearing the names of past big fires like badges of honour: Creek fire, Camp fire, Lightning Complex.”

What’s scary is that these operations are going to become the new norm. Nine of California’s 20 largest fires have occurred in the past two years. In 2010 wildfires in the US burnt 3.4 million acres; last year it was 10.1 million. As one veteran firefighter says: “Fifteen years ago, a 100,000-acre fire would be the largest fire of your career. Now, we have million-acre fires.”

Read the full article here.